Category Archives: Christianity

The Peace of God

From J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God (1973):

Too often the peace of God is thought of as if it were essentially a feeling of inner tranquility, happy and carefree, springing from knowledge that God will shield one from life’s hardest knocks. But this is a misrepresentation….

The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us. No account of God’s peace which does not start here can do other than mislead. One of the miserable ironies of our time is that whereas liberal and radical theologians believe themselves to be restating the gospel for today, they have for the most part rejected the categories of wrath, guilt, condemnation and the enmity of God, and so have made it impossible for themselves ever to present the gospel at all, for they cannot now state the basic problem which the gospel of peace solves.

The peace of God, then, primarily and fundamentally, is a new relationship of forgiveness and acceptance, and the source from which it flows is propitiation.

Religion and Politics

I have been thinking a lot about divisions among Christians, and how to think about them in a way that honors God. I think Lewis is spot on.

I found this quote in a wonderful book I admired and was then given, The Quotable Lewis, Martindale and Root, 1989, included in the section titled “Church: Divisions.”

Tomorrow I am crossing over (if God so have pleased) to Ireland: my birthplace and dearest refuge so far as charm of landscape goes, and temperate climate, although most dreadful because of the strife, hatred and often civil war between dissenting faiths.

    There indeed both your and ours [Catholic and Protestant] “know not by what Spirit they are led.”  They take lack of charity for zeal and mutual ignorance for orthodoxy.

    I think almost all the crimes which Christians have perpetrated against each other arise from this, that religion is confused with politics.  For, above all other spheres of human life, the Devil claims politics for his own, as almost the citadel of his power.  Let us, however, with mutual prayers pray with all our power for that charity which “covers a multitude of sins.”

The Only Permanence

Quoting Paul Tillich’s “The Shaking of the Foundations”:

[T]he 90th Psalm…starts with a song of praise: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place age after age.” In order to describe human transitoriness, the poet glorifies the Divine Eternity.  Before looking downward he looks upward.  Before considering man’s misery he points to God’s majesty.  Only because we look at something infinite can we realize that we are finite.  Only because we are able to see the eternal can we see the limited time that is given us.  Only because we can elevate ourselves above the animals can we see that we are like animals.  Our melancholy about our transitoriness is rooted in our power to look beyond it.  Modern pessimists do not start their writings by praising the Eternal God.  They think that they can approach man directly and speak about his finiteness, misery and tragedy.  But they do not succeed.  Hidden–often to themselves– is a criterion by which they measure and condemn human existence.  It is something beyond man.  When the Greek poets called men the “mortals”, they had in mind the immortal gods by which they measured human mortality.  The measure of man’s transitoriness is God’s eternity; the measure of man’s misery and tragedy is the Divine Perfection.  That is what the psalmist means when he calls God our dwelling place, the only permanence in the change of all the ages and generations.  That is why he starts his song of profoundest melancholy with the praise of the Lord.

Affirmations of God And Man, Edmund Fuller, 1967

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2090&version=KJV

In the Rooms

The church I regularly attend has recently adopted several changes, including a name change (formerly Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church, now Skidaway Community Church). We were told the church is still Presbyterian, but the hope is that the new name will attract more worshipers. I still am not sure what I should think about this.

We also are in the early stages of searching for a new minister, and like most everyone else, feeling the disruption caused by COVID, social distancing and abbreviated services.

We still include corporate confession and assurance of pardon every week (although sometimes the assurance is applied narrative rather than scripture), but we are no longer reciting the Apostle’s Creed, or another statement of faith. I think it is a mistake to omit it. We need to bear witness exactly to what we believe.

C. S. Lewis, who coined the term “mere Christianity” also warned against its misapplication and abuse:

I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions–as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.  It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.  (Mere Christianity, 1980).

I Wish to be Like Jesus

A children’s prayer song:

I wish to be like Jesus,
So humble and so kind.
His words were always tender,
His voice always divine.
But no, I’m not like Jesus,
As anyone can see.
O Savior come and help me
And make me just like thee.

                                                                              Author unknown

“Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Mark 10:15, J.B. Phillips

 

Blessed Hope

Quoting Charles Hodge in an excellent podcast on “Blessed Hope”:

“Our duty, privilege and security are in believing, not in knowing, and trusting God and not our own understanding.  They are to be pitied who have no more trustworthy teacher than themselves.”

Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, but based on the promises of God in Christ Jesus.  All of them.

Noting the influence of relativism not only in our culture, but also in Christianity, this comment by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul was shared:

“I’m afraid that in the United States of America today the prevailing doctrine of justification is not justification by faith alone, it’s not even justification by good works, or by a combination of faith and works.  The prevailing notion of justification on our culture today is justification by death.  All one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die.”

Fatally sad.

 

On Predestination: The Universal becomes Particular

I find this quote from a Scottish theologian, Donald Macleod, helpful.

Who has the right to believe? Who has the right to come to Christ? That question has been discussed very thoroughly in Reformed theology and the answer has been unambiguous: every human being, without … exception whatsoever, is entitled to come to Christ and to take Him as his own Saviour. Every man as a man, every sinner as a sinner, the foulest, the vilest, the most vicious—it was put in the strongest possible terms—had the right to come.

This was based on certain clear emphases of the Word of God itself. For example, God commands every human being to believe. No one is exempt from that command. We have the right to come to Christ, whoever we are, because God commands us to come to Christ.

We have the right, secondly, because of God’s offer and invitation to come to Christ. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa. 45:22); “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28); “Let the wicked forsake his way … and let him return to the Lord” (Isa. 55:7). The offer was absolutely universal.

Thirdly, there is a universal divine promise: if we believe, we shall be saved. That is God’s promise. Now it is a conditional promise. The reward is conditional upon our believing. But God’s promise is made categorically: if we turn to God in Christ we shall be saved. Alternatively, it can be put in these terms: the warrant is universal because it arises from the fact that the Bible explicitly states that there is no price to be paid. This salvation is utterly gratuitous (Isa. 55:1). We receive the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17). We take it without money and without price (Isa. 55:1).

Some Reformed preachers went to great lengths to express this fact that every human being, no matter how sinful, has the right to come and take Christ as his Saviour. They were predestinarians of the deepest dye (men like Thomas Boston, John Duncan, and Martin Luther) but they believed equally firmly in the free, universal offer of the gospel. John Duncan put it most succinctly: “Sin is the handle by which I get Christ.” [He went on,] “I don’t read anywhere in God’s Word that Christ came to save John Duncan … but I read this: He came to save sinners and John Duncan is a sinner and that means he came to save John Duncan.” Luther argued in the same way. He said to the devil, “Thou sayest I am a sinner. And I will take thine own weapon and with it I will slay thee and with thine own sword I will cut thy throat because sin ought to drive us not away from Christ but towards Christ.” The Bible and Reformed theology have taught us to come—just as we are.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Now it may be that in Reformed theology there is no theological answer to the question, “How can it be simultaneously true that only the predestined are saved and that God commands all men to believe?” All we can say is that both horns of the dilemma are equally valid. For the moment our concern is with only one aspect of the truth: every human being is warranted to come to Christ. The great thing here is that the universal becomes … particular. If all are warranted, each is warranted. If each is warranted, I am warranted. This is supremely important in relation to those who are tempted to spiritual despair: the backslidden, those who were once bright, shining Christians, but from whose lives the glory has gone and who feel that for them there is no hope. Wherever we stand, we have the warrant to believe.

From a sermon, “Amazing Grace”, by Alistair Begg.

C.S. Lewis’s Transposition

Recently I saw a reference to C. S. Lewis’s  “Transposition,”  which I couldn’t recall.  I found it in a collection of essays I have, C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory.  As I read I remembered a lot of it.

From the Introduction:

“Transposition” was preached in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford–a Congregational institution–at the invitation of its Principal, Nathaniel Micklem (1888-1976), on the Feast of Pentecost, 28 May 1944.  It was reported in The Daily Telegraph of 2 June 1944 under the heading “Modern Oxford’s Newman” that “in the middle of the sermon Mr. Lewis, under stress of emotion, stopped, saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and left the pulpit.  Dr. Micklem, the Principal, and the chaplain went to his assistance.  After a hymn was sung, Mr. Lewis returned and finished his sermon…on a deeply moving note.”

Lewis has probably accomplished as much as any modern writer, both in his fiction and in his sermons, to make Heaven believable.  My guess is that at sometime, but not necessarily in 1944, he may have felt that he had not succeeded as well as he might with “Transposition.”  Though he was quite ill during the spring of 1961 when…his publisher…was pressing him to edit a volume of his essays, something wonderful happened.  With a simplicity that is perhaps an instance of Heaven coming to its own rescue, Lewis was shown what glories are involved by the corruptible putting on incorruption, and there came from his pen an additional portion that raises that sermon to an eminence all its own.

That section is my favorite.  I tried to write a brief synopsis, but it just left too much out.  So I will share the beginning of that additional portion Lewis wrote later:

I believe that this doctrine of Transposition provides for most of us a background very much needed for the theological virtue of Hope.  We can hope only for what we can desire.  And the trouble is that any adult and philosophically respectable notion we can form of Heaven is forced to deny of that state most of the things our nature desires.  There is no doubt a blessedly ingenuous faith, a child’s or a savage’s faith which finds no difficulty.  It accepts without awkward questionings the harps and golden streets and the family reunions pictured by hymn writers.  Such a faith is deceived, yet, in the deepest sense, not deceived, for while it errs in mistaking symbol for fact, yet it apprehends Heaven as joy and plenitude and love.  But it is impossible for most of us.  And we must not try, by artifice, to make ourselves more naif than we are.  A man does not “become as a little child” by aping childhood.  Hence our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.

Against all these, to be sure, we set one positive: the vision and enjoyment of God.  And since this is an infinite good, we hold (rightly) that it outweighs them all.  That is, the reality of the Beatific Vision would or will outweigh, would infinitely outweigh, the reality of the negations.  But can our present notion of it outweigh our present notion of them?  That is quite a different question.  And for most of us at most times the answer is no……[T]he conception of that Vision is a difficult, precarious, and fugitive extrapolation from a very few and ambiguous moments in our earthly experience, while our idea of the negated natural goods is vivid and persistent, loaded with the memories of a lifetime, built into our nerves and muscles and therefore into our imaginations.

Thus the negatives have, so to speak, an unfair advantage in every competition with the positive.  What is worse, their presence–and most when we most resolutely try to suppress or ignore them–vitiates even such a faint and ghostlike notion of the positive as we might have had.  The exclusion of the lower goods begins to seem the essential characteristic of the higher good.  We feel, if we do not say, that the vision of God will come not to fulfill but to destroy our nature; this bleak fantasy often underlies our very use of such words as “holy” or “pure” or “spiritual.”

    We must not allow this to happen if we can possibly prevent it.  We must believe–and therefore in some degree imagine–that every negation will be only the reverse side of a fulfilling.  And we must mean by that the fulfilling, precisely, of our humanity, not our transformation into angels nor our absorption into Deity.  For though we shall be “as the angels” and made “like unto” our Master, I think this means “like with the lines proper to men” as different instruments that play the same air but each in its own fashion.  How far the life of the risen man will be sensory, we do not know.  But I surmise that it will differ from the sensory life we know here, not as emptiness differs from water or water from wine but as a flower differs from a bulb or a cathedral from an architect’s drawing.  And it is here that Transposition helps me.

And his illustration is wonderful.  Read it all free here.